EPA: House bill could delay review of toxic chemicals 'indefinitely'

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is concerned that a House proposal to reform the nation’s toxic chemical laws could “delay evaluations for some of the most dangerous chemicals indefinitely,” a top official said Tuesday.

Jim Jones, the assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the draft of the bill introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) allows industry groups to request chemical risk assessments, immediately starting a six-month clock for the EPA to complete a review.

“We’re concerned with the majority of risk evaluation resources going to completing requests from industry,” Jones said during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.

Critics of the House bill argue that the review process could be exploited if businesses force the EPA to assess chemicals that aren’t much of a safety risk, leaving them without the time or resources to look at more dangerous chemicals. Industry would be required to pay for the assessments they request, however.

Unlike the chemical reform bill that Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerCalifornia House Republicans facing tougher headwinds House and Senate water bills face billion difference Boxer, Feinstein endorse Kamala Harris in two-Dem Senate race MORE (D-Calif.) and Edward MarkeyEd MarkeySanders, Dem senators press Obama to halt ND pipeline Senate Dems ask Obama to block Atlantic, Arctic offshore drilling Federal agency under fire for selling recalled cars MORE (D-Mass.) introduced in the Senate, the House bill does not specify which chemicals EPA should prioritize for review.

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), said with a new Congress, lawmakers have a new opportunity to address the shortcomings of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which hasn't been updated in decades.

“The discussion draft makes for a great start in completing our goal of drafting a new law,” he said.

To date, Jones said the EPA has identified 80 chemicals that need to be reviewed. Assessments have been completed for five of those chemicals, with another 20 under review now.

In response to a question from Shimkus, who serves as subcommittee chair, Jones said the agency would need twice the resources it has now to review 20 chemicals a year. EPA is assessing anywhere from three to eight chemicals per year now, he said.

Though Jones said EPA has not taken a position on the House bill, the agency is concerned that the language of the TSCA Modernization Act creates an additional barrier for EPA in reviewing chemicals.

The bill would require the agency to make a finding that exposure to a chemical poses a risk to human health or the environment before it can begin an assessing that chemical, but Jones said the whole point of an assessment is to determine the risk.

The language of the bill, he said, also has EPA questioning whether it will be required to consider costs when regulating a chemical.

“It’s not clear if this discussion draft is maintaining existing cost benefit balancing or if it’s attempting to exclude costs completely,” Jones said.

Shimkus said the committee will revise the bill and issue a new draft before the mark-up, which is scheduled for May 14.

— This story was corrected at 1:38 p.m. to reflect that Rep. Shimkus is the chief sponsor of the House bill.